Runaway Train Big Hit With Iraqis

Tiny train wins Iraqi hearts but Najaf traffic authorities don't approve.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 27, 2009 — -- In Najaf, the sacred city of Iraq, an astonishing sight presents itself -- children, old women and men wearing bright smiles as they ride a small red train first through an amusement park and then straight into the city's streets.

Residents seem to love it, some hop on for entertainment while others use the train as a means of transportation. But traffic authorities don't approve of the tiny train's wayward ways and are now threatening to close down this new means of transport.

The joyful red train is the latest sign that the city is emerging from years of brutal warfare. Najaf was a battleground between U.S. troops and Shiite militia and then was caught in an armed struggle for control of the city between rival Iraqi forces.

Violence peaked in Najaf in 2004, and jobs and business dwindled as security evaporated and fighting took hold of the city. The sectarian battles created a sense of hopelessness.

The gunfire has subsided and a new $33 billion plan has been approved to build a new city. With security and signs of progress, business has resumed, and residents can even think about enjoying themselves.

Khudhair, a 32-year-old Najaf resident said, "We had one amusement park and it was closed. There was no other place to go to, no entertainment. This new amusement park is new, we have seen new ideas, and we love them, it is a good sign of improvement."

Many people in Najaf are fond of the train, which is the first ever to run in the city. Abu Ja'afar, a resident of the Al-Mualmeen district in Najaf told ABC News, "It is amazing to see a red train with wheels driving through our little city. My children are happy. They have never seen a train in their life."

Abu Mohammed also expressed excitement over the new train telling ABC News, "it [is] new, it is bright to see a red wheeled train in the city. My children are happy to ride it."

Samir Hasan Ja'afar, an investor in the little amusement park in Najaf, told ABC News, "The train is [a] new idea we have brought, as we cannot have railroads inside the park, so we decided to make it on wheels."

It's a three-car train with speeds up to 10 kilometers per hour.

But the excitement in the sacred city may be short-lived, since the police in Najaf do not support the train's city pathway.

"The very first days of operating the train we have made little tours in and around the park and in the nearby streets to add more joy for those who ride it. Lately we were banned by the traffic police, the driver was arrested, then released. Police banned us from making tours in and around the city as for protecting the safety of people," Ja'afar told ABC News.

Until the Najaf traffic, police change their minds, the red little wheeled train will be limited to the boundaries of the park and city residents like Abu Mohammed and his children will have to wait for the opportunity to ride through the streets of the old city once again.

Qasim AL-Kaabi contributed to the reporting of this story.